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JEAN SHEPHERD—GALLEYS FOR SALE

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More than a month before scheduled publication day of August 9, several copies of SHEP’S ARMY in galleys have shown up for sale—on ebay.com and at Manhattan’s Strand Books Store. (Maybe other places!?) The “galleys” superficially appear much like a finished book except for the yellow banner across the top of the front cover and across the bottom of the back cover stating: UNCORRECTED GALLEYS—NOT FOR SALE. Despite this, people have presented these galleys for sale, and others have bought them. (I recognize that this is not some major tragedy or unprecedented—it just gives me the opportunity to discuss some of the ways that uncorrected galleys of Shep’s Army are not the same as the glorious, published book!)

To get the obvious out of the way first, unpublished galleys are for the purpose of the publisher getting some advance material out to potential reviewers, and for a final check for possible items that might require adjustments by author and publisher. These pre-publication offsprings, that have not yet been brought to full term, present the notion that these free copies will not be sold. Any sales don’t remunerate the author or publisher a penny. And they include material deemed inferior to what’s intended, so the buyer, gaining a lead on other eager readers, may well miss out and be misinformed in some ways.

sheps army final cover     back cover

The final front cover, with its stronger type colors

is superior to the galleys cover.

 (Click on images for bigger views)

The published back cover includes information not on the uncorrected galleys. Importantly, near the top, text states that Shep’s army stories therein have never before been published, clarifying what might be a question for some shepaholics. In addition, Shep-enthusiast Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, having received the advanced galleys version, gives his laudatory opinion of the entire enterprise. (Thank you, Dee!)

imagesDee

Inside the front cover and on the back cover are some accolades for Shepherd. The galleys contained a statement that repeats a nearly universal misunderstanding of what Marshall McLuhan had written about Shepherd—the published book removes this error from the beginning of that quote.

The Keith Olbermann foreword (for which the publisher and I are very grateful to this long-time Shep-enthusiast) suggested, to my mind and to that of my keen-eyed cousin/personal-editor, a comment about the stories that might have confused some inattentive readers. A small change for the published book, approved by Olbermann, satisfies our concerns. One comment in the foreword says “Shep would have found these spirited transcriptions of his army stories also got it ‘exactly right’!”

keith 3Keith

Naturally some small typos and other minor matters that would trip up the unwary galleys-reader, have been fixed.

Of major concern to me, upon reading  the galleys, was my introduction to PART 4 of the final group of stories. This major, concluding section, containing a miscellany of stories, ends with Shepherd’s final army days in a separation center. I found my intro woefully inadequate. Don’t know what I was thinking. My bad! Fortunately, the publisher allowed me time to insert a longer and much better way of putting things.  Unfortunate galleys-readers miss out on this improved, PART 4 intro.

Those mini-slip-ups avoided, life feels so much better now.

Onward toward publication day!

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JEAN SHEPHERD Shep’s Army–press release

press release jpg

  

(click on image to enlarge)

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JEAN SHEPHERD–THE ART AND THE TRAGEDY Part 2 of 2

(More has come)

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THE TRAGEDY OF JEAN SHEPHERD

WHICH BEGINS HIGH ON THE MOUNTAINTOP,

CONTINUES WITH FLAWED DECISIONS

THAT AT FIRST SEEM RIGHT AND PROPER,

BUT, FROM THE HEIGHTS OF PARNASSUS,

CAN BE SEEN AS A TRAGIC FAILURE

TO ACHIEVE WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN.

Tragedy in the traditional sense: “A drama or literary work in which the main character s brought to ruin or suffers extreme sorrow, especially as a consequence of a tragic flaw, moral weakness, or inability to cope with unfavorable circumstances.” –The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed. 2000.

Tragic hero: A literary character who makes an error of judgment or has a fatal flaw that, combined with fate and external forces, brings on a tragedy. — Dictionary.com’s 21st Century Lexicon 2003-2013

Among the definitions of tragic, one usually encounters a version of: His downfall is usually due to excessive pride (hubris).

Jean Shepherd was a genius. A flawed genius.  In part his flaw was that besides being a genius as a raconteur, he had other talents that, while good enough to achieve some renown, he collaborated in allowing himself to be diverted from that unique genius to other creative areas from which he garnered both acclaim and financial reward.

PROS

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PURITY OF FORM

IDEAL MEDIUM    

PERFECTION OF EXECUTION

CONFLUENCE OF PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS, THE POTENTIAL OF THE MEDIUM, AND THE SOCIAL CIRCUMSTANCES He excelled in extemporaneous expression and in the ability to create sound as entertainment and meaning, grasp ideas, understand human foibles, and invent stories.  He attained his majority during the era when radio was the prime medium of communication, consisting totally of sound, in which he excelled. Radio was the ideal medium through which he could express his gifts. It had a singleness, a purity of form (it’s sound alone) and he mastered its intricacies.  He created an oeuvre that elaborated and expressed its potential.

During the emergence of modern jazz and the ascendancy of improvised interpretation within it, he used its form, creating a one-of-a-kind coalescence of all that words with sound could do. For this a major jazz magazine named him jazz personality of the year: Metronome Magazine proclaimed, “Shepherd in 1958 seemed, from time to time, to be a philosopher, a gifted impromptu monologist, a social satirist, an iconoclast, a comic, a jazz soloist whose words were his instrument.” He created an unparalleled art form beginning with some years in Cincinnati and Pennsylvania before coming to New York City, continuing during his less-than-a-year overnight broadcasts in 1956 (infuriatingly, yet to emerge in audio recordings) into 1960 when he chose to alter his radio art to a more organized, polished, and diffuse form.

Starting from the early 1960s, to the effective end of his career in the mid-1980s his work in other media (except for the truncated, near-Great-American TV-Masterpiece, Jean Shepherd’s America) mostly consisted of elaborations of his previously told stories–written versions printed in magazines and his books, and mixed into long-form TV dramas.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

CONS

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TRAGIC FLAW

MORAL WEAKNESS

INABILITY TO COPE WITH UNFAVORABLE CIRCUMSTANCES

SOCIETY’S ALTERING CIRCUMSTANCES—RADIO’S DECLINE (rock and roll and TV, which promoted shortness of attention span and superficial allure requiring more dramatic stimulus). That his unique talent for extended humor and his variety of sound-based themes were not as appreciated by a large enough mass audience, led to his allowing radio’s termination of his art form.

Despite the pure joy of listening to most of his individual broadcasts, the true immensity of his achievement is appreciated in the long haul—the reality that day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year—the cumulative effect of the variety and extent of his output is incomparable. The influence he has had on current major media artists and other industry workers is astounding in its scope. Many thousands of his listeners remain enamored of his work.

The ideal artist, in his/her purity, would have continued, above all else, in the prime art, rather than expand into more popular media (as talented as he was in writing, TV, and at least the one film that resulted in his financial well-being). Remember that most of his work in other media was a re-working of what he’d done on the pure form of radio. The ideal artist would have persisted in the unique art to the point of abject poverty—surely some smaller radio station would have hired him at a pittance to continue his art. (Of course we all know how few saints willing to endure poverty there are among us.)

Instead he accepted that defeat and, at least in public, demeaned and rejected his ideal medium and the art he created within it. He could not, god-like,  step back and contemplate his achievement from afar. He could not know how his legacy lives on.

Fortunately for him,

we, his followers, persevere in our passion.

*

HAPPY BIRTHDAY,

JEAN SHEPHERD

(July/26/1921-October/16/1999)

shep signature

 

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JEAN SHEPHERD–THE ART AND THE TRAGEDY Part 1 of 2

Bestowed Upon J. Parker Shepherd

Nearing the Anniversary of

His 92nd Birthday

010_Brass_Figlagee CROPPED

A brass figlagee with bronze oakleaf  palm

for Jean Parker Shepherd

(Idea conceived by J. Shepherd,

designed and crafted by E. Bergmann,

photographed on a bed of excelsior by J. Clavin .)

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THE TRAGEDY OF JEAN SHEPHERD

I have frequently thought about the tragedy of Jean Shepherd.  The heights of his talent and his failure to achieve what he felt he deserved. Most recently, I’ve returned to thinking about and reading of Canadian pianist Glenn Gould—that sometimes inexplicably difficult genius. He recognized what he had and he pursued it despite advice and the taking of the easier, more popular path. He did not live in poverty, although it might have seemed like it to some.  He lived and created as his thoughts and  instincts led him. Gould died young while still immersed within his chosen activity.  Shepherd died old and disgruntled, having forsaken the field of his higher genius. What does it take to be a saint and what is tragedy? What is the nature of the classic form of tragedy? I looked it up.

The Characteristics of an “Archetypal” Tragic Hero

Noble Stature: since tragedy involves the “fall” of a tragic hero, one theory is that one must have a lofty position to fall from, or else there is no tragedy (just pathos). Another explanation of this characteristic is that tragedies involving people of stature affect the lives of others. In the case of a king, the tragedy would not only involve the individual and his family, it would also involve the whole society.

Tragic Flaw: the tragic hero must “fall” due to some flaw in his own personality. The most common tragic flaw is hubris (excessive pride). One who tries to attain too much possesses hubris.

Free Choice: while there is often a discussion of the role of fate in the downfall of a tragic hero, there must be an element of choice in order for there to be a true tragedy. The tragic hero falls because he chooses one course of action over another.

The Punishment Exceeds the Crime: the audience must not be left feeling that the tragic hero got what he deserved. Part of what makes the action “tragic” is to witness the injustice of what has occurred to the tragic hero.

Hero has Increased Awareness: it is crucial that the tragic hero come to some sort of an understanding of what went wrong or of what was really going on before he comes to his end.

Produces Catharsis in Audience: catharsis is a feeling of “emotional purgation” that an audience feels after witnessing the plight of a tragic hero: we feel emotionally drained, but exultant. 

THE TRAGEDY OF JEAN SHEPHERD

WHICH BEGINS HIGH ON THE MOUNTAINTOP,

CONTINUES WITH FLAWED DECISIONS

THAT AT FIRST SEEM RIGHT AND PROPER,

BUT, FROM THE HEIGHTS OF PARNASSUS,

CAN BE SEEN AS A TRAGIC FAILURE

TO ACHIEVE WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN.

(More to come.)

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JEAN SHEPHERD’s ‘SHEP’S ARMY’ on CBS TV

http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2013/07/21/new-book-looks-at-jean-shepherds-fictional-military-service/  

CBS image

CBS TV interviewer Dick Brennan and

Eugene B. Bergmann talking about

SHEP’S ARMY: BUMMERS, BLISTERS, AND BOONDOGGLES

on WCBS Sunday Morning, July 21, 2013

(Note that the image in the background is CBS’s artwork,

not the actual book cover. See actual book on the table.)

EBB: “This book is the first book of Shepherd stories to come along in a quarter of a century. They were never before in print, they represent stories he told on the air about his life in the army–of course, his life–his fictional life in the army.

“And to me, one of the fascinating things I found out about his army stories when I began researching them and listening more and more and wondering, how can I put this book together, is that, over all of the stories he told, they became almost a chronology that could be referred to almost as Jean Shepherd’s army novel.

“Because they’re not just random stories. They really tell his induction into the army; his early Signal Corps training at one camp in Missouri; his radar experiences in Florida; and some general experiences; and finally getting out. And as he put it, ‘Thank  God I ain’t in the army!’ “

More to come on Shep’s Army

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Acolites galore

JEAN SHEPHERD ENTHUSIASTS IN THE ARTS

I believe that a large percentage of people in the arts, especially those who spent time in New York City and environs from the mid-1950s, listened to Jean Shepherd. And most anyone who listened was an enthusiast. I can say this because, in the last decade or so, there has been a constantly expanding array of well-known people in the arts who have, in one way or another, indicated that they were Shep listeners. To the extent that intellectuals, artist-types, and nerds talked to each other back in the 60s I find it almost inevitable that the subject of listening to Shep would come up. As an example of this sort of talk about enthusiasms between peers, when I interviewed U. S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins for my first Shep-book, he reminisced that, as a youngster, when he mentioned Shepherd to a new acquaintance, if the kid was also a listener, they became instant good friends. I’ve heard of the same kind of experience from others.

I’d guess that also among those who probably listened and were hooked by Shep’s seductive voice and delivery and his sheer entertaining way of expressing his ideas, would have been folk like Woody Allen, Bob Dylan, and others of that ilk.

  woody allen   

 SHEP ENTHUSIAST?

.dylan 

 SHEP ENTHUSIAST?

                             (I present a very partial list. In parenthesis I indicate some identifier or specific connection to Shep.) For those I’ve left out—my bad! Anyone with firm evidence about other Shep listeners in the arts, please contact me.

David Amram, musician

Fred Barzyk, director, producer (Of Shepherd TV work)

Bill Carter, NYT media columnist (Interviewed Seinfeld—Paley Tribute)

Paddy Chayefsky, screenwriter (Network, etc.)

Ron Della Chiesa, radio broadcaster

Bob Clark, film director (A Christmas Story)

Billy Collins, poet (U. S. Poet Laureate)

Richard Corliss, essayist (Extensive Time Magazine tribute to Shep)

David Dinkins, NYC mayor—comments on Don Imus’s show

Donald Fagan, musician (Steeley Dan. Comment re: his “Night Fly” album & Slate essay.)

Barry Farber, radio broadcaster

Jules Feiffer, cartoonist, playwright

Joe Franklin, radio broadcaster

Herb Gardner, cartoonist, playwright (A Thousand Clowns, etc.)

Bill Griffith, comic strip creator of “Zippy the Pinhead” (His tribute to Shep)

Hugh Hefner, publisher (Playboy)

David Hinkley, NY Daily News columnist

Don Imus, radio broadcaster—said of Shep: “A genius, a genius.”

Penn Jillette, comic

Larry Josephson, radio broadcaster

Andy Kaufman, comic

Jack Kerouac, author

Ernie Kovacs, television comic innovator

Paul Krassner, publisher, author

Bruce Mahler, comedian, actor (Seinfeld’s  Rabbi Glickman)

Lois Nettleton, actress (Very early “Listener,” Shep’s wife for 6 years)

Keith Olbermann, political commentator (comments on his shows and foreword to Shep’s Army )

Jackson Pollock, painter

Harry Shearer, radio broadcaster (Narrator, NPR tribute to Shep)

Vince Scelsa, radio broadcaster

Johnathan Schwartz, radio broadcaster

Jerry Seinfeld, comedian (Attributes influence of Shep.)

Shel Silverstein, cartoonist, children’s poet (Shep’s best friend)

John Skoyles. Poet (AP review of Excelsior, You Fathead!)

Dee Snider, musician (Twisted Sister)

R. L. Stine, author (Goosebumps book series author—comment re Shep in interview)

Jerry Talmer, author, V. Voice, etc.

Dan Wakefield, author, V. Voice, etc.

John Wilcock, author, V. Voice, etc.

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JEAN SHEPHERD—TRUTH & FICTION

storyteller graphic

A storyteller, an Internet image

accompanying a short essay titled

The Science of Storytelling”

by Kami Thordarson,

Innovative Strategies Coach

__________________________

Does Jean Shepherd know when he’s telling true stuff and when he’s telling fiction? Do we know? We all know that on the radio he tells it like it’s all true. But when he discusses the act of storytelling, he says it’s all created (fiction), although he also admits that, like most authors, there are fragments of actual people and events.

So, there’s the question of what we can understand of Shepherd’s words as truth and what is made up. What’s invented out of whole cloth and what out of half cloth? On a program he once commented to his engineer, “You mean you—you really believe that everything you remember actually happened?” In my Excelsior, You Fathead!  I explore this a bit:

“…Shepherd here contemplates the truth and falsity of memory (and, by implication, his own ‘remembering’ as a storytelling device). Maybe Shepherd was not always sure how much he was making up and was suggesting that to some extent we all create our memories. Certainly, it seemed for Shepherd that memory is a baffling mix of [the actual, plus] conscious and unconscious fabrication. Thus it will never be fully possible to separate Shepherd’s reality from his performance—or, indeed, from his everyday talk. As Shepherd’s friend Bob Brown puts it, ‘He had the ability to weave things that really couldn’t possibly be true—in conversations. He was a difficult guy to know where reality stopped and fiction began. What he saw—or whether he saw it literally or whether he saw it in his mind—became reality for everybody around him.’”

There are some variations as to what might be true in storytelling. In a Paris Review interview, American writer and composer Paul Bowles comments about Mrabet, a Moroccan storyteller/author he translated, “In a story of his it’s hard to find the borderline between unconscious memory and sheer invention.” Might relate to Shepherd, but, despite the quote above, I think that Shep always knew what was memory for him and what he invented.

It’s my belief that regarding Shepherd’s kid stories and army stories, they are almost 100% fiction. There may or may not have been some incident in his life that inspired the fictional story. In the army stories, there is enough available information and circumstantial evidence to assure us that: he was in the Signal Corps; he trained at the Signal Corps school in Camp Crowder, Missouri; he claimed to have graduated from code school at Fort Monmouth, NJ, and that may well be true; he trained in radar operations at the secret radar training facility at Camp Murphy, just west of West Palm Beach, Florida, on the northern edge of the Everglades. We have army records showing when he entered the Service (achieving the rank of T/5), and when he was discharged. Most everything else in his army stories was very probably fiction–he created some great stuff.

EXAMPLE FROM SHEP’S ARMY

In Shep’s Army, the story about “USO hospitality” provides an example of what I believe is the nature of what is known as true. Here are some bits  referred to in the story and what we can reasonably believe:

1. Shep spent time at Camp Crowder, near Neosho, Missouri.

2. He consistently made disparaging remarks on his shows about Camp Crowder, Neosho, and Missouri.

3. Rural and small-town areas in states such as Kentucky and Missouri have reputations for illegal brewing of strong alcoholic beverages.

4. An Internet site describing Neosho comments that its citizens had the custom of inviting GIs home for a meal.

5. On several occasions, Shepherd has commented that young women in backwoods areas of some states were extremely nubile–think Li’l Abner’s  Daisy Mae.

6. He even mentions the comparison to Daisy Mae Scragg, seen here.

Daisy MaeYikes!

I believe that, putting all of the above into the mix, Shep concocted what is very probably the totally fictional story. Note that it is a Shep-rarity in that he implies therein a sexual encounter.

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JEAN SHEPHERD’S 4th of July Part 3 of 3

USA FLAG

What follows is the first paragraph of one of my transcribed

and edited Shep’s Army stories due out this August 9th.

 

FOURTH OF JULY IN THE ARMY

I was in this place. And I suddenly found that I wasn’t what I had thought I was.  I’m going to tell you a very embarrassing story about the Fourth of July.  It’s an army story.  When guys get into the Army or into college or into some kind of gang situation, the general attitude is to put everything down.  If you’re in college you put down whatever college you’re in: “Oh, don’t give me that Joe College jazz!”  In the army it’s also a tradition to put down the army, the United States, everything.  There’s no thing in the army such as patriotism except at strange, odd moments.  It’s a very strange feeling, living in twentieth-century America.  You’re torn between being a Babbitt on the one hand (which we all are, underneath it all), a kind of a herd animal that moos, chews stuff, hollers, and goes bowling.  You’re torn between that and the intellectual you which, in a sense, is against all of this.  Rarely do you ever go completely over from one side to the other. 

The story involves Shepherd and his fellow soldiers disparaging

the upcoming major parade. To his surprise, Shep finds himself stirred

to patriotic heights, ending his story by describing the emotional finale to the evening:

The flairs drift down and everybody is just standing there and it’s getting quieter and quieter.  Off in the distance the old band is a-playin’ and we’re all standing around eating our sandwiches and the ladies are drifting in and out, handing us soldiers cookies and cupcakes and jam, and the kids are watching and the big star shells and the sky rockets are going up and it’s getting darker and darker and darker. 

See, I told you I’d embarrass you.

_____________________________

To quote the title of one of Jean Shepherd’s

favorite songs, here are the

“Stars and Stripes Forever.” 

USA FLAG

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JEAN SHEPHERD’S 4th OF JULY Part 2 of 3

USA FLAG

With what gusto he also demolished American enthusiasms and mass-events such as NASCAR races, with its hordes of noisy, sweaty, bear-and-hotdog-guzzling hoi polloi!  He laughed with mixed glee and admiration for some of the over-the-top absurdities of our American practices.  He described with scorn the Madison Square Garden extravaganza produced by Mike Todd and Elizabeth Taylor celebrating the “Around the World in Eighty Days” movie.  He suggested that the air should have been sucked out of the affair and plastic poured over it to preserve this example of idiocy for the ages.  Especially in his later writings, when he no longer wrote many short stories, he filled in with unrelenting, curmudgeonly debunking of some aspects of American culture.  He dismissed protest-filled folk music of the 1960s as uninformed and naïve.  He disliked rock and roll in general and Bob Dylan and the Beatles in particular.  (Ah well, Shep, we can’t all be perfect.) Despite this negativity regarding teenagers’ anthems of rebellion and Dionysian delights, he retained his young audience.

On the other hand, while admitting some of America’s faults, he was quick to defend his country against those whom he felt were blindly critical through naiveté or ignorance.  He criticized those “socially conscious” comedians of the early 1960s who he felt demeaned America with their snide commentaries and jokes.  He described how at a party he had exclaimed that “I like America, I just like it,” and, being confronted by people who asked how he could like it with all the social problems and unrest, he said that he suggested to them that one should be aware of what was also happening in other countries before suggesting that America was any worse during those difficult times.   He admired many of the simple, good attitudes and customs that many disparaged.

JSA graphic

TV graphics for Jean Shepherd’s America

In his Jean Shepherd’s America television series he was mostly appreciative of some of America’s glories—even of the brutally picturesque and body-rattling world of steel mills, in one of which he had worked during a summer.  On the series he visited Chicago, Alaska, Okefenokee, Death Valley, Hawaii, and other interesting sites (such as New Orleans where he joined the tail end of a street-marching jazz band, tooting his kazoo), and delved into driving, flying, train riding, and the joys and disasters of vacationing.

Among his other works are his 90-minute TV dramas based on some of his short stories.  As he would explain, he liked to depict some uniquely American traditions.  In “The Phantom of the Open Hearth,” part of the story details the joys and disasters of prom night and the former custom of giving women a free dish– “dish night” at the movies; in “The Star-crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski” there’s the story of Friendly Fred’s used car lot and what it’s like to play a turkey in the school’s Thanksgiving pageant; in “The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters,” he celebrated Independence Day.

“Did I ever tell you about the

greatest 4th of July ever?”

4th of july title

“What is there about a solid molar-rattling explosion

that sets the blood atingle? And brings roses to the cheeks?” 

___________________

Of course his movie A Christmas Story details the American season of joy and avarice leading up to the birth of Jesus and the unwrapping of presents.

Despite the considerable criticizing, Shepherd yearned for his country to live up to its promise and his ideals—he loved the essence of America despite his disappointments and even his fears.  He rode a city bus to Washington to participate with the hundreds of thousands who rode and stood and cheered on the day of the March on Washington.  He gloried in the feeling of hope and community that he observed there.  When many protesters criticized our federal government for various shortcomings, he defended American life, not for being perfect, but for continuing to strive to be better than many countries which were naively thought of  by some critiques to be superior.  When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, he gave an eloquent eulogy on his radio broadcasts, suggesting that there was a potentially dangerous wave of unreason in the country, and that irrationality was on the rise, accurately predicting the forthcoming turmoil of the later 1960s.

Jean Shepherd, curmudgeon  and patriot, didn’t always have it right, but he knew what he was talking about much of the time, and even when he didn’t, he could make one think—and often laugh.  As did many of his predecessors in the curmudgeon business, he could criticize because he wanted the country he loved to live up to all of the ideals it stood for.  When it didn’t, he had a right to debunk thoughtfully, lovingly, and with humor.

Stay tuned for Part 3

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JEAN SHEPHERD’S 4th OF JULY Part 1 of 3

Happy Independence Day!

Jean Shepherd was a very strong booster for the United States.  In the 1960s, when there were many disparaging remarks being made about the country, Shep defended his country. Jean Shepherd loved the United States of America.

USA FLAG

JEAN SHEPHERD’S AMERICA

Jean Shepherd’s wide-ranging creative works cover innumerable subjects about what it’s like to be alive in America.  However, many would not recognize the special attention he paid to the customs, places, and general way of being of this country which he loved, defended, and sometimes criticized.  Clues regarding his interest reside in titles of two major projects.  As early as the late 1950s, he was working on the introduction and editing of his book containing humorous and satirical pieces by one of his favorite authors, The America of George Ade (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1960). The book cover’s subtitle captures some clues to Shepherd’s enthusiasm: “The Great American Realistic Writer who in the early Twentieth Century created Modern American Humor.”  The other, better known Shepherd title, consists of nearly two dozen half-hour television episodes of his fragmentary, varied, and uneven, Jean Shepherd’s America (PBS series of 1971 and 1985). If, instead of just two dozen, he could have created upwards of two-hundred of these, they surely would have been the twentieth century’s Great American Epic of varied environments and common cultural customs.

JSA FOLDER

(Folder cover for promotion material)

Certainly, many who heard Shepherd on the radio decry the likes of the Margate Elephant and the Leaning Tower of Pizza, recognize his frequent disparaging of the lowbrow mentality found in New Jersey (his sometime-symbol for the entire country).  And on television, those who saw on New Jersey Network, as its newspaper ad put it, the “irreverent tour with New Jersey’s noted humorist, Jean Shepherd On Route One…And Other Major Thoroughfares” recognize his negative attitude toward the state just across the Hudson from his beloved Manhattan.    Even Manhattan was sometimes the subject of his disdain, as when he would describe walking up 6th Avenue, “knee-deep in cigar butts.”  On one radio show, just back from Europe and aware of some Europeans on the bus getting their first view of America, he said that buses in Europe were clean, and he deplored the debris on the bus into New York from the airport—“I wish somebody’d swept up before these guys came.”  Yet Jersey, where he had for a time lived, and through which he frequently drove, was but a stand-in, a scapegoat, for country-wide customs at which he frequently poked fun.  He laughed at the American taste which put on front lawns such “slob art”–a favorite phrase of his–as little statues of painted plaster Mexicans, and that ultimate in bad taste, pink flamingos.   He did not suffer American folk art of such ilk lightly.  He reveled in dumping on ever-proliferating junkyards, going so far in one of his television programs in his Shepherd’s Pie series, showing heavy duty equipment, piling up debris in elegant slow motion, accompanied by ironically juxtaposed, apparently synchronized, classical music. To repeat,  “…this country which he loved, defended, and sometimes criticized.”

Stay tuned for Part 2

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